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Photographing the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, California

I was recently doing some research on Julia Morgan, and discovered that one of her creations, the Chapel of the Chimes, was located nearby and conveniently open to the public.

DSCF7330_AuroraHDR2018-edit.jpgJulie Morgan was the first female architect licensed in the state of California, and the first woman to be accepted into the l’École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts.  Perhaps best known for her work on Hearst Castle, Ms. Morgan lived in San Francisco and Oakland for much of her life, and is responsible for dozens, if not hundreds, of our most famous structures in the arts and crafts style.  She was a truly remarkable lady, and a singular talent.  I encourage you to read up on her, if the opportunity presents itself.

A portion of the Chapel of the Chimes was created by Ms. Morgan, a design concept influenced by Moorish motifs, with many small corridors and atriums filled with natural light.  The location functions as an elegant crematorium and columbarium, as well as a place for somber contemplation.


Behind each of the glass cases, above, are a brass book, or occasional urn. containing a deceased person’s ashes.


As you can see, I struggled somewhat to capture the beauty of the place.  It was truly mazelike in structure, resulting in numerous lovely atriums with much natural light and an outdoor feel, woven together by stained glass and moorish design details.

Funny aside about this experience: When I arrived, I asked a fellow who was taking care of the plants, and sweeping the floors, whether it was okay to take pictures.  He told me it was fine as long as I was respectful.  It turns out goth kids come in routinely and take pictures for instagram next to some unfortunate family’s grandmother’s urn or something.  The establishment is not pleased, not pleased at all, and who could blame them?  After this conversation, I attempted to do my best to focus too strongly on an individual’s name plate.


I have little experience with indoor photography, especially indoor architectural photography.  It proved more difficult than expected.  The lighting, for example, was very contrasty and uneven, sometimes glaringly brilliant, and other times dark and moody, depending on your location.  The rooms were also small, which provided technical challenges to catching their feel and scope.


I used doorways as framing devices a fair amount, but now I’m thinking I may have been better served to attempt the picture from another angle, maybe the corner of the room, for example.

I also ran into some troubles with all of the vertical lines, and my wide angle lens, which warped everything maddeningly.  The internet tells me that this is fixable in Photoshop.  I am not yet proficient, so funny house pictures it is, at least for now.  The other solution is a tilt-shift lens.  I do not own such a lens, and they don’t make one for the Fuji anyway, which, funny story, is how I ended up with my wonderful camera.  Apparently a realtor in New Jersey got frustrated with its lack of ability in this area, allowing me to get my hands on it for a very reasonable price.


The above shot was taken in a newer wing of the Chapel.  This area is based on Aztec influences, and was designed by a Frank Lloyd Wright protoge.


And that’s a wrap!  I encourage you to visit this lovely little place, and come away with better pictures than I got.  I think you will find it to be quite special.  I certainly did.



1 Comment so far

  1. What a beautiful place! Will definitely add to my itinerary next time I’m there. The photos are great and looks like you had the place to yourself.

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